The idea of "Community Info Zones"

This is a possible idea for BiCon 2003.

One of my big areas of interest at last year's BiCon [i.e. 2002], still current for me, is the whole thing about people feeling at home at BiCon or not, and how we can support people (especially new people) in settling in. A while ago, I was talking to Sarah from Bi Glasgow about it, and Sarah suggested what I think is a rather brilliant idea, which is what we might call "Community Info Zones". And I have been thinking about how we might do this, if people wanted to.

Like what?

Each "Community Info Zone" would be a stick-it-on-the-wall-type display in the registration/socialising area at BiCon, one per community or interest group, which people can browse at their leisure if they feel uncomfortably ignorant or just curious. And basically each one would be what the people in the group want the people outside the group (or new to the group) to know.

A typical one could include, for instance, an FAQ off the web, and a nice colourful heading and the odd decoration. Or more (e.g. articles or photos), if people wanted to add more. But even a much simpler one-page one would show people that this group was present at BiCon.

The point

The original reasoning behind this is that, while we BiCon veterans are used to seeing people wandering around in glorious kinky perv gear and meeting people with "unexpected" pronouns and talking about polyamory and bdsm and genderqueer and transgender and asexuality and all that jazz, the newbies are often on a rather steep learning curve. Not even just bi/queer stuff - I mean some people have never been around the Deaf community before, and probably all of us could use more awareness of disability politics &/or anti-racism & suchlike. And there's a limit to what you can squash into the programme booklet, or even into an introductory welcoming workshop.

As I thought about it some more, I also realised that "info zones" would potentially also address another BiCon phenomenon, which is the illusion that some groups don't exist or aren't there, when in fact they are there. It seems to come about because some groups are more noticeable than others. One thing that was very clear from the "Fitting & misfitting" workshop was the frequency with which people are under the illusion that they're the only one there of their kind. (See the "Everyone seems..." exercise.) So it's also a way of saying "We Are Here".

I would certainly like to see an "Info Zone" for the very important subgroup "Ordinary Bisexuals"  :-)

I think "info zones" could also be a social asset for some of the people at the stage of "not quite settled in yet and not sure what to do with themself", or just at a loose end during BiCon. Reading them could be both something interesting-but-relatively-unthreatening to do, and potentially a conversation-starter with other people also browsing.


Let me say right now that I would definitely not be expecting the BiCon organisers to prepare these displays. Oh no indeed. There's no practical imperative for that to be the case, because it's all stuff that could be got ready before BiCon and then simply put up as people arrived.

I don't think it ought to be loads of work for anyone, because for most of them, the main thing would be the FAQ, such as would almost certainly be available from the net already. So that part could potentially just be a matter of printing something out (with attention to accessibility, e.g. large font and good contrast), and other info or decorations could be added at the whim of the people who were doing it. Of course, if people wanted to go to town with colours and photos and other stuff, that would be all the better.

My suggestion is they should be done by enthusiastic people from within the relevant groups. After all, there's a self-interest in that as well - it means you can skip answering the FAQs when you meet new people, and educate people to relate to you sensibly.

But if no-one wants to do them, then that's fine too - it's one of those where if something's done, it's good, but if it isn't, no-one's lost out by putting the idea around.

One small bit of necessary management would be to make sure that we didn't get two groups unwittingly doing stuff on behalf of the same community. This could be coordinated via the BiCon LiveJournal.

(Also, if future BiCons had this, the organisers would have to be aware of the need for wall space. But I wouldn't envisage a problem at 2003, 'cause I went on the site tour and saw the atrium, which has lots of wall. We just need a lot of blu-tack  :-) )

Possible communities to be represented

Some of the "community info zones" it has occurred to me would be useful are... [In addition, after the first version of this article appeared, another suggestion was that we might have some geographical content - e.g. large maps of the UK and the world to which people could add Xs for their own location, and/or info about local bi groups.]

Some of these seem to me more "important as a beginners' guide" and some of them more "important as visibility". For instance, there are obviously BDSMers at BiCon, but it's something unfamiliar to many people, whereas bi parents are no mystery but may be invisible to others in their group. And some groups are often neither visible/noticed nor generally well understood.

Obviously it needn't stop there. See also Subgroups of the bi community and "Coming out as...", as contributed by participants at the "Fitting & misfitting" workshop. If people got into the spirit of it, there could also be little zones for all kinds of groups and interests. There could be paper available for people to add new ones during BiCon. And I don't think we should stop anyone doing one if they want to, provided they weren't advocating anything contrary to ethical behaviour - it's all part of the "We are here".

Comments welcome! And if anyone feels inspired to maybe do one of the displays, please make yourself known, perhaps by posting on the BiCon LiveJournal.

LiveJournal discussion of this article in March 2003

Links to previous LiveJournal discussions of BiCon newbie-friendliness:
Discussion of "Fitting & misfitting" workshop article
mjwin's comment about issues in the bi movement - note particularly the paragraph on ordinary people